Breen's drive for WRC comeback given a boost
Craig Breen is effectively auditioning for a full-time return to the World Championship in 2020 when he lines up for the start of Rally Finland this evening.
Dropped by Citroen at the end of last season, Breen has made it clear the only place he wants to be is in the WRC, and in his efforts to keep his name in the frame he has been busy competing - and winning - in Italy, in Belgium and at home in Ireland.
A potential path back to the big time emerged with his surprise call up to the WRC manufacturer-leading Hyundai team for Finland, a rally where he finished on the podium behind Kris Meeke in 2016.
Team regulars Dani Sordo and Sebastien Loeb indicated they weren't keen to be part of an event which is so fast it is referred to as 'the Finnish Grand Prix', so Hyundai boss Andrea Adamo turned to Breen to partner Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen.
"Back to the land of happy memories," tweeted Breen. "I can't wait."
A repeat of his 2016 performance could see the two-time Circuit of Ireland winner post a reminder that he should still be a part of the WRC scene, and with changes likely to come at Hyundai and Ford, as well as Toyota, next season, Breen has this unexpected opportunity to put his helmet in the ring.
One of those seats possibly in jeopardy is that of his former Citroen team-mate Meeke who, after a strong start at Toyota, has slipped back into his bad old ways with costly errors in Chile, Portugal and Sardinia.
Recruited mainly to help Toyota defend their all-important manufacturers' title, Meeke, who turned 40 in July, now has only the second half of the season to save his career and vindicate Gazoo Racing boss Tommy Makinen's decision to give the Dungannon driver a second chance after his brutal dismissal by Citroen last year.
Nowhere better to start than Finland, his favourite rally, and where he produced a stunning performance three years ago to become one of just a handful of non-Scandinavians to win what is regarded as the Holy Grail of the sport.
"Rally Finland has some special memories for me and, of course, Finland is where I got my first taste of the Yaris WRC. The car was developed in Finland and feels fantastic to drive on these ultra fast gravel roads," he said.
"We've seen in the last two years just how strong it can be on this rally and I think everyone in the team is feeling confident about the second part of the season. Hopefully we can kick-start it with a great result."
But Meeke can't lose sight of his principal role which is to support rising superstar Ott Tanak, the World Championship leader and last year's Finland winner, who is just four points ahead of Citroen's six-time champion Sebastien Ogier. And, crucially, he needs to help Toyota narrow the 44 point gap to Hyundai in the manufacturer series.
Breen desperately wants to have a say in that battle too and to stake his claim to a more permanent return to the top table next season.